NFL Replacement Referee Bias

Today I'm happy to feature the first guest post on If We Assume, written by fellow astronomer Peter Yoachim! He's discussing the now-famous debacle by the replacement referees (see also here) that occurred in last night's Seattle Seahawks game (Some are calling it the "worst call in NFL history"). Take it away Peter...

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After watching the refs botch Monday Night Football (Go Seahawks!?), I was wondering if there's a way to quantify just how bad the NFL replacement referees are.

One thing that stood out in the game was how many calls went the Seahawks' way on the final drive--which reminded me of the discussion of home-field advantage in Scorcasting.  They concluded that referee bias is the primary driver in home-field advantage across sports.  They even note that in the NFL from 1985-1998, the home team won 58.5% of the time, but after instant replay was introduced, the home team only won 56% of the games (1999-2008).

If the replacement refs are much worse than the regulars, we might expect the home-field advantage to grow.  My logic being, if the refs are botching more calls, those botched calls will tend to be in favor of the home team, that gives them an advantage, so they should win more.

How have home teams fared so far?  After 48 games this NFL season, the home teams have a record of 31 wins and 17 losses, for a whopping 64.6% win rate!  But is that significantly more than 56%?  31 wins is actually only 4 more wins than we would have expected with the regular refs.  As always happens when I try to calculate the statistical significance of something, I got bogged down in an arcane wikipedia page, when it told me to look up some value from a table.  Whenever a statistician tells me to look something up in a table, I reply, "Fuck that, I can Monte Carlo this in 5 lines of Python."  So I did:

#play 10,000 seasons of football with 48 games each
hg = np.random.rand(10000,48) 
#home team wins 56% of the time
hg[np.where(hg <= 0.56)]=1 
#the rest are losses
hg[np.where(hg < 1)]=0 
#total up the wins per season
ack = np.sum(hg, axis=1) 
print 'probability of home team winning 31 or more games with 1999-2008 refs = %.2f'%(np.size(np.where(ack >= 31)) /10000.*100)+'%' 

If you run that, you find out that we would expect  31 (or more) home team wins only 15% of the time.  To turn it around: 85% of the time the home teams have fewer wins at this point in the season.  We normally say something is significant when we reach the 5% level, so we're not there yet.  If the home teams keep winning at a 65% rate (or higher) for 3-4 more weeks we should make it to significance!  That's about the only reason I've found to root for the replacement refs sticking around--damned, scabs!

1 comment:

  1. The game between Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks has finally exposed NFL’s fraud. For months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has leaded a strong public relations campaign designed to convince people that the replacement referees were qualified enough to be working in NFL games.However, the recent game held between Packers and Seahawks has shown every NFL fan that the referee decision regarding the game-winning touchdown was nothing less than a debacle. And at least for all Packers fans, it was nothing more than heart ache, since they lost the game 14-12 because of the controversial decision.
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